Living a Curious Life

The thing about listening to podcasts (especially hour-long ones) is that it is difficult to know just from the title itself if it will be something that is worth listening to. But once in a while, I chance upon a truly enlightening conversation that makes sense of parts of your life that I didn’t even think possible to be articulated in speech.

Early this year I was introduced to On Being (, a podcast series touching on questions revolving humanity and the meaning of what we do. One of my favourite podcasts so far happened to be a conversation with Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love which obviously needs no introduction) titled “Choosing curiosity over fear” [].

I feel that Singapore is a relatively conservative society (improving, no doubt) and creativity has never been much in the spotlight as far as education is concerned. There is a real fear (part stigma, part nonchalance) of expressing oneself, especially when it comes to artistic pursuits. I’m referring here to the average person – you, me and everyone else who has probably average or minimal experience in playing musical instruments or creating art. There is the sense that “oh, I better not try because I don’t know how to” or “someone else can do it better, I better not embarrass myself”.

Somewhere in the podcast this was referred to as having “your artistic expression” taken away from you and it raises creativity onto this raised pedestal where it seems as if its only reserved for certain people with the talent for it. Somehow this seems wrong. Now for the part that has been really bugging me. There has always been so much talk about finding your passion and knowing what you want to do. By my own gross estimates, easily 60% of my peers don’t have a solid idea on what they would like to do in life. There is so much pressure on finding your niche, finding your “passion” and making a career out of it. The problem and truth of it all is that passion can be fleeting and it does not come to all:

…Curiosity is our friend that teaches us how to become ourselves. And it’s a very gentle friend, and a very forgiving friend, and a very constant one. Passion is not so constant, not so gentle, not so forgiving, and sometimes not so available.

This line from Elizabeth Gilbert struck me as one of the simplest and most effective analogies I have come across.

An interesting person is an interested person

As a child, we all have this innate curiosity in everything around us. Its like the first few levels of an RPG where you pick up anything you can find and poke around at every little thing, or the first year (or semester…or week…) of university where you attend every lecture and tutorial. Time passes by and you no longer explore as much, you no longer pay attention to the details because it has disappeared in the midst of greater pursuits. Alright enough of vague analogies but people do get jaded. We get so caught up in the flow of routine and make assumptions of all the things we would have asked but did not. “How does that work? Why is Corona always served with a slice of lime wedged in the bottleneck? Aye, must be some marketing gimmick..”(it masks the spoilt smell of beer exposed to sunlight in the past).

I decided from a long way back while filling out one of those Facebook notes that spread around that if there was a way I wanted to live life, it would be to experience all that can be experienced. Yeah I italicised that line so that it would look more legit, but I feel thankful that by following that subconscious mantra, I have managed to keep my childlike inquisitiveness. This also explains for (but not excuse, unfortunately) my habits such as commentating excessively during movies, making small talk revolving around “hey I wonder how this…” etc etc…

To me, being curious is a way of life and being. People say that you have never truly lived until you did this or that, or that life is defined by the decisions one makes at important points of their lives. I feel that life is also defined by the manner in which you live it. Its not so much as to what you have achieved because some roads do not lead to tangible ends, but its what you owe to yourself in fulfilling life in a certain spirit.

Stubborn Gladness

We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of the world. – Jack Gilbert (not related)

Many people go through hardship and tribulations, but not all of them suffer from a proportionate amount of depression and sadness. To be curious is to be delightfully inquisitive, and appreciate the workings of the world in all its fine details. The paradox of stubborn gladness makes sense when you see refugees laughing, impoverished children having fun and patients making fun of their own conditions. There is much suffering in the world but above all, there is a part of us that holds on to the spirit of being glad.

Being curious in the face of suffering is also about appreciation.

Appreciation for circumstance: In many ways, people see and perceive things through their own lenses. How will this affect me? What is going to happen to me? How will I get through this? A lot of resent and contempt arises because it is so easy to perceive the situation in terms of your own losses. Being appreciative of the reasons and circumstances that gave rise to the situation is an exercise in reframing the problem and gives rise to new perspectives. And I do it because I’m innately curious of how the world works.

In Closing

I definitely did not touch on so many other brilliant points mentioned in the charming conversation between the two, but I wanted to document my thoughts at this point of time in life. It’s definitely important to live every life as a unique individual. To seek answers to the frivolous and mundane may seem fickle to most but its a culmination of both the act of asking and the answers that add up to a person that I can truly say is my own.





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